Real News

Real News

By: Brendan Menapace

Look, sometimes it’s fun to make our friends jealous. Like when we’re on vacation, we might send our co-workers a picture from the beach, just so they see how much fun we’re having rather than being in the office. Or maybe we’re just jerks.

But, for those who think like we do, this new bottle opener uses WiFi to let users show they’re friends when they’re cracking open a cold one.

The Bottle Opener X alerts your friends when you're cracking a beer. | Credit: Kickstarter

According to Metro UK, the Bottle Opener X features a wooden and steel exterior, and a WiFi connected key that connects to social media platforms. When users pop their caps off, it will alert the users’ friend groups of choice to provide a bit of good-natured ribbing, and maybe provide a bit of fear of missing out (or “FOMO,” as the kids say) for their friends.

The item first appeared on Kickstarter, after the company Hikami wanted to raise $15,000. As of printing, the project has raised more than $19,000. It currently retails for $35.

With all of the WiFi-enabled products that we see in the promotional space these days, this would be a perfect fit for vacation destinations, hotels or breweries. What’s wrong with showing your friends how much fun you’re having every now and then?

By: Joseph Myers

The Rose Gold Stainless Cold Cup is one of five new beverage holders that Starbucks is hawking this holiday season. (Image via

As Thanksgiving approaches, many folks find themselves eager to declare their gratefulness for intangible blessings such as improved health, financial stability and personal growth. Other individuals choose to include those gifts and a few tactile goodies when thinking about what brings them joy because, hey, as George Harrison and Madonna told us in song, we live in a material world. Just in time for the beloved November celebration and the subsequent holiday shopping onslaught that Black Friday will initiate, Starbucks has brewed up another product for those who love giving thanks for objects, gracing consumers with a colorful line of cups and tumblers that figures to have everyone thinking pink (and rose gold).

The coffee company had already begun to encourage a festive appreciation for the most wonderful time of the year through its holiday holders, and while those will go a long way toward showing off end-users’ creativity, the containers that comprise the Pink Cold Cups collection and Rose Gold duo will also help patrons make their affinity for flashiness well-known, setting off a surplus of social media-based displays of affection..

Selling for $14.95, $18.95, $19.95 and $22.95, respectively, the Pink Glitter, Pink Sequins Plastic, Pink Stainless and Rose Gold Stainless Cold cups and the Rose Gold Scales Tumbler are again proving how proficient Starbucks is at consistently crafting concepts that will draw purchasers in droves. People generally prefer to feel peppy at this stage of the calendar, and no amount of Thanksgiving turkey tryptophan is going to make buyers sleep on the opportunity to reward the beverage beacon for its business acumen.

Online shopping has become an obsession for those who wish to avoid long lines and testy temperaments, but consumers who wish to lift their spirits by elevating these cups must head to licensed Starbucks locations and approved establishments within, for example, airports, grocery stores, hotels and retailers like Target. Thanks to the fusion of rose gold, millennial pink (I am not ashamed to admit that I had not heard of this hue, which, apparently, has been a showy shade for more than a year), white and silver, Starbucks has further reminded not only its peers but all commercial enterprises that it pays to be a literally colorful addition to end-users’ enjoyment of their respective holidays and observances.

You just know that many happy patrons are going to be washing down Thursday’s desserts with help from these cups and will be fetching a few “Where did you get that?” inquiries. In other words, when people have had enough football and fellowship, expect for the company’s sales to percolate. No matter one’s stance on Starbucks, there is no denying that the place knows all about showing the true colors of commercialism.

By: Tom Higgins

I find myself buying more plastic water bottles than I’d care to admit. While I always make a point of recycling them, and even refill them a few times, I’d be naïve if I said I believed this was an eco-friendly approach to water consumption. Of course, I’ve tried reusable bottles, but I always manage to lose them or forget them at home.

Yes, I’m aware that this is a personal struggle rooted more, perhaps, in laziness than in anything else. However, plastic drinking bottles are as ubiquitous as they are convenient. Unfortunately, this leads to quite a lot of waste and pollution.

While consumers like myself come to terms with their own dependence on plastic bottles, major companies are taking steps toward sustainability that cater to both environmental need and end-user satisfaction.

Just yesterday, the Denver Broncos debuted New Era’s latest 9FIFTY and 9TWENTY caps. The new caps use Repreve fiber, an eco-friendly material made from recycled plastic bottles and designed by Unifi—a sticker on the caps states that each is made using four recycled bottles.

The Denver Broncos released caps made from recycled plastic bottles. | Credit: Fibre 2 Fashion

As the New Era Cap is the official on-field hat of the NFL, it will be interesting to see whether other teams choose to use hats made with Repreve fiber. It is important to note that this is not the first time an NFL team has collaborated with Unifi/Repreve. In 2014, the Detroit Lions practiced in jerseys made from the recycled fiber.

The NFL especially seems to be at the forefront of sustainable promotional practices, whether through eco-friendly apparel options such as the Repreve-made New Era hat, or through recycled event banners used to make tote bags. Hopefully, this trend will continue as more end-users look for sustainable options in the apparel and accessory items they purchase in support of their favorite teams.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to cut down on my plastic bottle use—at least until the Philadelphia Eagles come out with their own sustainable apparel options. While I applaud the Broncos for their environmental consciousness, I wouldn’t be caught dead supporting another team in this city, especially after last week’s game...

For any Denver fans now reading this, please forgive me for the cheap shot. I couldn’t resist. After all, you’ve got us beat in one important statistic.

Related story: Adidas Makes MLS Uniforms Out of Ocean Waste

By: Brendan Menapace

The sale and use of single-use plastic bottles has taken a big hit, as many cities and states have made moves to outlaw their sale. Some tourist destinations, like parks, have stopped selling plastic bottles in their gift shops. Now, the Houston Zoo is the latest to join the ranks of places that have stopped selling plastic water bottles.

This is actually good news for the promotional products side of things, as the zoo is turning its focus away from single-use bottles in favor of branded reusable water bottles.

The Houston Zoo will no longer have single-use bottles available, opting instead for branded reusable bottles in its gift shops. | Credit: Houston Zoo

As is the trend these days, the zoo will sell aluminum reusable bottles and a paper-based bottle, and will have refilling stations around the grounds.

Aside from the recyclable nature of the paper water bottles, the zoo has cited a reason that relates closely to its mission—saving sea turtles. By not selling plastic bottles and bags, there's less of a chance of waste making its way into Houston waterways and, eventually, the ocean.

"The zoo is committed to saving animals and their habitats in the wild, and this is just one more way we can inspire guests to take simple actions and join us in protecting wildlife," Peter Riger, vice president of conservation education at the Houston Zoo, told Click 2 Houston. "We are using this action specifically to highlight the need to protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet."

In addition, the zoo no longer sells single-use plastic bags, opting instead for reusable tote bags with different designs on it.

By: Joseph Myers

Some New Year’s resolutions require their originators to use the entire calendar to make them realities, yet the completion of such time-consuming endeavors deserves no less praise than the execution of easier aspirations. In fact, the former might merit a bit more recognition because they often involve overcoming conundrums that have long been burdens. McDonald's has decided to become a commercial example of a well-intentioned resolver with a bother to put behind it, as come the end of the year, the world’s largest fast food chain will cease using polystyrene foam packaging at all of its global locations.

The eateries total more than 36,000 spots and help to make the entity a veritable cash cow, with hamburgers obviously giving that title some literal support. Already due for a big 2018 change through its impending headquarters’ relocation from Oak Brook, Illinois to Chicago, the 77-year-old titan will enhance concern for its contributions to consumers’ carbon footprints by making changes that are bound to inspire much happier meals for said patrons. The imminent polystyrene elimination will mark the end of what amounts to 2 percent of McDonald’s packaging, a figure that, though relatively small, presently causes enough damage to prompt As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group, the call for a revamp.

By the end of the year, these foam cups will become things of the past at McDonald's locations. | Credit: Chicago Tribune

“Rarely recycled, expanded polystyrene foam used in beverage cups and takeout containers is a frequent component of beach litter, breaking down into indigestible pellets, which marine animals mistake for food, resulting in deaths of marine animals,” a company release said of the rampant reliance on the packaging option that more than 100 U.S. cities have banned or restricted.

The recent McDonald’s-centric revelation stems from an As-You-Sow-guided May vote through which 32 percent of shareholders pledged allegiance to fighting for foam’s removal. Taking to its website, the fast food provider also vowed to have all of its fiber-based packaging come from certified or recycled resources within the next two years, with the current tally checking in at 64 percent. That digital declaration dovetails with the polystyrene news to move McDonald’s away from controversy it caused in the summer, when, according to the Chicago Tribune, it reintroduced plastic cups—a no-no for its hot beverage offerings since 2012 and an infrequent find in many of its American markets with respect to cold drink containers and food trays—in the Chicago area.

That move, which the publication reported through the help of environmentalists, also extended to other American locations and international dining destinations. The paper noted that McDonald’s has chosen to let its website explain the environmentally-friendly plans, but it did include As You Sow senior vice president Conrad MacKerron’s contention that the chain will announce a packaging and recycling initiative this week.

“It’s taken a long time, but better late than never,” he said of McDonald’s evolving stance on its fast food products’ long-lasting ecological effects.

McDonald’s is definitely not the first mega food and/or beverage company to face backlash for its business procedures with respect to packaging, and it will certainly not be the last, as global audiences call for equal consideration going to how enterprises produce and protect their goods. In other words, the pursuit of the almighty buck should never find one neglecting responsibility to those who hand over that desired commodity.

By: Hannah Abrams

The city of Boston just announced that the city council voted to approve a plan that would ban the use of single-use plastic bags at stores, restaurants and pharmacies.

The council unanimously passed the Reduction of Plastic Bag ordinance, but the ban still needs Mayor Marty Walsh's signature. If he signs the ban, the law will go into effect within one year, according to WCVB.

Under the new rules, single-use plastic bags would be banned, but businesses would sell other types of plastic bags for no less than $0.05. The permitted bags would include reusable bags, recyclable paper bags and compostable plastic bags.

This ordinance has been in the pipeline since 2016 when a task force was put into place to survey city residents about their desire for the ban. They collected 710 responses. Most of those surveyed said they supported an outright banning of single-use plastic bags versus charging a fee.

The ordinance would allow businesses to apply for an exemption for one year, but they would need to provide evidence that they require extra time to use up their existing inventory of bags.

Could Boston set an example to other large neighboring cities that it's time to ban single-use plastic bags? I guess we'll find out.

By: Joseph Myers

I gained my initial exposure to The New Yorker 17 years ago this month when, as a college senior, I joined classmates in submitting poetry to the publication as it marked its 75th anniversary. While none of us could eventually boast of being a celebrated bard within its pages, nobody had a sour grapes mentality, knowing them’s the breaks of young adulthood. Since that introduction, I have occasionally glimpsed an issue here and there but have not felt compelled to have copies further clutter my residence. In a great example of “Different strokes for different folks,” a half million people have proven the opposite of yours truly and have giddily anticipated its contents through new subscriptions. The 92-year-old Condé Nast product has acknowledged the overwhelming influx by endowing them with customized tote bags that have given those end-users added clout, especially among those who inhabit the Big Apple.

Much like those who have traveled to cherished destinations, eaten in revered restaurants or hobnobbed with elites, individuals who engross themselves in The New Yorker have, well, a tendency to present themselves as a bit more enlightened than those whose literary interests do not take any interest in its pages because of the magazine’s reputation as a thorough chronicler of contemporary society. The overseers definitely know their audience, with Condé Nast’s vice president of consumer marketing Dwayne Sheppard reflecting on the surge of subscriptions by saying, “I’ve never seen such high demand for quality journalism and brilliant writers…,” adding that the tote allows them to declare their affinity for The New Yorker’s grasp of the Zeitgeist.

Subscribers have received 500,000 totes for giving their allegiance to The New Yorker. (Image via Market Watch)

“The tote bag is, consciously or unconsciously, a sign of cultural currency,” author Elizabeth Currid-Halkett told Market Watch. “Reading The New Yorker implies possession of rarefied knowledge, cultural awareness and refinement of taste that goes beyond simply reading about world happenings. The tote bag allows one to, even if not intentionally, broadcast one’s possession of such cultural capital.”

Many folks will find her sentiments teeming with bombast, while others will wholeheartedly assert that she has masterfully summarized their tastes. Obviously, editor David Remnick cares more for the latter crowd, and his employer’s means to thank that group have resulted in its being able to classify the bag as its most popular gift ever. Market Watch has noted that the demand for the holder has often succeeded supply figures, with covetous consumers yearning to use the tote to “telegraph tribal membership.”

That is not to say that possessing the bag has transformed all owners into intolerable narcissists, as the Market Watch piece speaks of “self-aware embarrassment.” (I wonder what the equivalent of the bag’s sway would be for residents of our Philadelphia base—maybe a lifetime of free food from a cheesesteak purveyor like Geno’s or Pat’s?) 2017 has been an interesting stretch for The New Yorker’s readership, as many sign-ups occurred at the turn of the calendar just as Donald Trump, a frequent target of Remnick and other personnel, prepared to become the nation’s 45th president.

January yielded more than 100,000 sign-ups for the 47-times-a-year-published magazine, and the ranks have only swollen in the subsequent eight months. Those who have given print journalism a much-needed boost have become the bee’s knees through the tote, which connoisseurs who had let their subscriptions lapse for at least six months and many tenured readers have also acquired. While it resembles any other carryall, its logo-bearing exterior is really driving interest and will likely continue to do so as Remnick and his troops look to put out an updated version this fall.

“The value of The New Yorker bag is what it signifies, not what it actually looks like,” Currid-Halkett said.

Could this tote, no matter how fancy or nondescript it is, be destined to join other iconic New York objects as beloved symbols? Some might think it’s in the bag, while others might deem that possibility too foolish to handle. What’s your stance?

By: Brendan Menapace

"Made in China" is a common phrase on a number of consumer items all over the world. Chances are, most of us have at least one piece of clothing with it printed on the tag. But, some of those "Made in China" declarations may be misleading. Reuters reported that an increasing number of Chinese textile companies are using North Korean factories and labor.

Traders and businesses in Dandong, located just across the Yalu River from North Korea, told Reuters that Chinese companies are taking advantage of cheap labor across the border. The Chinese suppliers send fabrics and materials to North Korean factories, where employees assemble and export the finished products to Chinese ports, from which they go all over the world.

Much of North Korea's exports go through Dandong. Currently, North Korea is operating under heavy United Nations sanctions due to its missile and nuclear programs, but there are no bans on textile exports. Textile exports were worth $752 million in 2016, falling only behind coal and other minerals.

The Korean-Chinese businessman told Reuters (on the condition of anonymity) that his company takes orders from all over the world, but not all of the end-buyers are aware of the product's origins.

"We will ask the Chinese suppliers who work with us if they plan on being open with their client," he told Reuters. "Sometimes the final buyer won't realize their clothes are being made in North Korea. It's extremely sensitive."

One big-name company, Rip Curl, had to apologize last year when it realized that some of its ski gear was made in North Korea, despite its "Made in China" label. The outdoor apparel company blamed the supplier for going to "an unauthorized subcontractor."

The traders told Reuters that this wasn't an isolated incident, however, calling it a "widespread practice."

A Pyongyang-based Chinese trader told Reuters that Chinese manufacturers can save up to 75 percent by outsourcing operations across the border—making the already cheap Chinese manufacturing even cheaper.

In a chilling anecdote, he told Reuters that North Korea's cult-of-personality surrounding its leadership and hermit kingdom status makes the workers at the state-owned factories ideal employees. Sources added that employees are often housed in facilities that allow for indoctrination of "North Korean ideals" while they aren't working.

"North Korean workers can produce 30 percent more clothes each day than a Chinese worker," he said. "They aren't like Chinese factory workers who just work for money. North Koreans have a different attitude—they believe they are working for their country, for their leader."

North Korean workers received wages as low as $75 per month, with an average of $160 per month. Work days are about 15 hours. For perspective, the average factory worker in China makes around $450 to $750 each month. The North Korean workers keep about a third of that, too, with the rest going to their North Korean "government handlers."

"Wages are too high in China now," a businesswoman in Dandong told Reuters. "It's no wonder so many orders are being sent to North Korea."

By: Brendan Menapace

The face of global apparel manufacturing is changing. As countries like China become more expensive for manufacturing, companies are taking their business elsewhere. Some are finding ways to create products in the U.S. through new automation technology, and others are moving to places like Ethiopia.

The biggest shift, however, has been to Southeast Asia. And that's more prevalent as ever, as Bangladesh is poised to overtake China as the European Union's largest apparel supplier by 2020.

According to the American Journal of Transportation (AJOT), EU apparel imports from Bangladesh have risen for the last nine years consecutively from 12.2 percent to 23.4 percent.

In comparison, China's imports have decreased as the country struggles with rising costs of labor.

In 2010, more than half of EU apparel imports came from China. In 2016, only a third did. To compensate for this decline, Chinese exporters have cut prices by as much as 8.2 percent to be more attractive.

So, why is Bangladesh becoming the new go-to source for apparel? There are a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, Bangladesh can export apparel products to the EU duty-free thanks to the EU's Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement. Under this agreement, imports to the EU from the Least Developed Countries (as laid out by the UN) are duty-free and quota-free. This came into place in 2001.

The second appeal of Bangladesh is the price. Last year, Bangladesh was the second-cheapest supplier of apparel to the EU (Pakistan being No. 1), and it was the cheapest supplier among the leading 10 suppliers in 12 apparel categories, AJOT reported.

Bangladesh still has a daunting list of problems to address before it can fully lead the world's apparel manufacturing. Human rights violations and dangerous work conditions still plague the country. And while initiatives like the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety are working to end these issues, they still exist today.

By: Brendan Menapace

Though it's common knowledge now that some apparel that boasts "Made in China" tags are actually made in North Korean factories, new United Nations sanctions on North Korea could put a stop to that.

The UN Security Council unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on North Korea yesterday, which includes a complete ban on textile exports and an end to overseas laborer contracts.

Due to previous sanctions on North Korea, the textile industry was one of the country's primary operations. Chinese manufacturers would send materials to North Korean factories, where workers would then assemble the products at rates much lower than China's rising cost of production, and then the finished products would be taken back to China, where they would be sent off through Chinese ports.

Citing a U.S. official, CNN reported that the North Korean government made $760 million in textile exports in 2016, making it the largest economic sector that was previously untouched by UN sanctions.

"The textile ban, inspections paragraphs and joint ventures language are strong," former deputy director for the U.S. Treasury Department Anthony Ruggiero told CNN. "The other sectoral restrictions rely on China and Russia implementation, which has been a challenge. The U.S. should continue to use U.S. sanctions against China and Russia to ensure implementation."

That's the key here: Chinese implementation. If China plays by the UN's rules and cuts its ties with the North Korean textile industry, it could economically choke out the hermit kingdom fairly effectively, and put a halt on falsely labeled "Made in China" apparel throughout the world market.

If not, well, it's entirely possible that "Made in China" apparel continues to make its way from North Korean factories.

By: Hannah Abrams

Credit: Velcro

While most companies use lengthy press releases and sponsored news stories to get the word out about the legal repercussions of using their trademarked names, Velcro just took an amazing approach to its battle.

The company released a music video entitled "Don't Say Velcro" explaining that every time you use the word "Velcro" to describe self fasteners, you are hurting the actual Velcro brand.

The music video features a band of lawyers singing the company's qualms, and pleading with the public to cease saying phrases like, "Velcro shoes" when the fastener isn't actually Velcro brand.

The company also launched a Don't Say Velcro webpage to explain more specifics about its case.

"It's not about doing it for us, it's about doing the right thing," the website reads. "Successful brands around the world need your support to help protect trademark guidelines. Pledge to end the era of broken trademark laws."

Watch the video below to enjoy the full hilarity:

By: Brendan Menapace

Yesterday's eclipse sure was something, eh? For us in the Northeast, it was a little cloudy, but we still got a cool view of the rare phenomenon. (We'll spare you our crappy iPhone photos from the office window.)

So, hopefully, you viewed the eclipse with eclipse glasses to protect your vision. (And, hopefully, those glasses didn't have any spelling errors on them.)

But, since eclipses don't just happen every week or so, you're probably wondering what you should do with your glasses?

It turns out you have a few options.

Your eclipse glasses from yesterday could benefit others abroad.

First off, remember that the glasses are likely made of paper. Because of that, they're recyclable. You don't need to do anything fancy here: Just toss em with the rest of the paper products you're looking to recycle. But, make sure you take the lenses out first. That part isn't recyclable, according to Lifehacker.

Aside from that, there's always the option of donation. That's a way of recycling in itself, and you directly see someone benefit from it.

While we're going to have to wait our turn for another eclipse, sky-gazers in South America and Asia will get to check out an eclipse in 2019. Astronomers Without Borders is collecting glasses to pass out to students.

"This is an opportunity for schools to have a first-hand science experience they might not otherwise have," Astronomers Without Borders president Mike Simmons told Gizmodo. "Many schools in developing countries don't have resources for science education, and this is a rare opportunity that inspires students and teachers, and shows them that science is something they can do. It can be a ray of hope for young people who don't otherwise see a path to a career like this."

Finally, you can always keep them! We in the U.S. are due for another eclipse in 2024, so those glasses aren't obsolete just yet!

USA Today reported that if the glasses were made by one of the 12 eclipse glasses makers that met NASA standards, they're good forever, as long as they aren't scratched, torn or punctured.

Especially since so many of these were promotional products, it's comforting to know that many of these items will live on, either waiting for 2024 or taking a trip abroad to check out the eclipse in 2019.